Schedule 14 — Repeals
Orders of the Day
Nick Herbert (Shadow Minister (Police Reform), Home Affairs; Arundel and South Downs, Conservative)
I certainly do not want to misquote the Minister. I was quoting the Minister in the other place, who referred to five years. Now, however, it appears that the existing powers have not been used for 12 years. This is quite bizarre, and the more I hear about this power, the more I become convinced that it is unnecessary for the Government to take it, and the more I distrust them for seeking to do so. The Government's métier has been to accrue power to the centre and to direct public services from the centre. We are particularly worried that that is what they are now attempting to do in relation to the police. They attempted to do it in relation to the proposed amalgamations, and they are now attempting to do it again.
The history of attempted interventions in the affairs of police forces has not been an entirely happy one for the Government. In February 2002, the then Home Secretary, Mr. Blunkett, warned the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, that unless the Metropolitan police cut violent street crime levels within six months, he would send in his own management hit squad. Presumably, he intended to machine-gun recalcitrant officers in Scotland Yard. In June 2004, the then Home Secretary took on Humberside police authority and eventually succeeded in having the chief constable, David Westwood, sacked, against the wishes of the authority. In the new diaries of the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside, which I am sure the Minister has read, he says:
"In thinking back on it, my desire to see speedy action and to be decisive probably coloured my judgement...The spat between the Home Secretary and David Westwood was not in the interests either of improvement in the service or myself. It simply prolonged the problem."
We are worried that there is a danger of politicising policing. There is a fundamental difference in perspective between our approach and the Government's proposals. To whom should police forces ultimately be accountable? We believe that accountability should be primarily to the local community, and that policing should respond to the wishes and demands of local people, as my hon. Friend Mrs. Lait pointed out earlier. The Government, by contrast, have a mantra of double devolution, but will not let go of the strings and, in this case, are attempting to tighten their grip on policing. Our primary concern about the powers is the danger of central political direction leading to politicisation of policing. In 2002, the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, responding to the then Home Secretary and his threat to intervene in the force, said that
"accountability must never be translated into political veto over operational policing. The freedom for police officers to conduct sensitive inquiries must be sacrosanct in a democracy."
In spite of the Government's concessions, we still believe that the provision transfers too much power to the Home Secretary and upsets the balance that should exist between local people, a police force and Government. For that reason, we will support the Lords amendment.